There are all kinds of movies. There are movies that touch you, that move you, that captivate you. That make you laugh, that make you cry, that make you think about the world and all its wonders. But then there’s one special type of movie. A kind of movie that floats in the ether, that feels unlike any other, that makes you scratch your head and think, “…what the heck did I just watch?”
We know the feeling. Film Colossus is dedicated to investigating and deciphering those cinematic enigmas that sometimes leave us guessing for decades on end. They made an entire documentary about the dozens of different theories people have about what’s happening in The Shining. A maze in film form, Prisoners pushes moral quandaries and drags us deeper and deeper inside a mystery about navigating pain. And, of course, few movies have confounded people like Mulholland Drive, which floats between dreams and the real world, between imagination and crushing reality, in a truly ethereal manner.
These are all movies that people love because they’re so cryptic yet so impressive. You feel something when you watch these films that few others can match. You connect with them even when you don’t know why. There’s something there. But what is it?
We at Film Colossus hope to shed some light, to provide a blueprint for those who are looking for just a little bit of help. We don’t have all the answers. But thanks to our active viewing habits, we are always looking for paths that lead us to an answer—or, at least, something that resembles an answer. And we hope our interpretations will help you unlock that special connection you share with a movie that truly befuddles.
Below is a compilation of the most confusing movies ever made. We based this list on what we’ve heard from our Movie Club followers, from #FilmTwitter, from Reddit posts that have kept people talking for years. And we have detailed explanations for every single one. If you think of more movies we should cover, then please post them in the comments. But for now, let’s take a look at the most confusing movies ever made—and what you need to understand them.
At the most base level, people find American Psycho confusing due to its ambiguous storytelling. But there’s so much more to unpack than that. The film revolves around Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street investment banker who leads a secret life as a serial killer. Throughout the movie, it’s unclear whether the violent acts are real or just hallucinations in Bateman’s disturbed mind. The ending leaves viewers with more questions than answers, making it challenging to distinguish between what’s actually happening and Bateman’s psychotic imagination.
Donnie Darko is confusing because of its complicated plot involving time travel and alternative realities, all wrapped up in adolescent angst and the fear of an unknowable future. Donnie, a troubled teenager, has visions and experiences strange occurrences, guided by a creepy rabbit-figure. The movie combines elements of teen drama with science fiction, which makes the narrative intricate and open to multiple interpretations. The non-linear structure and the infusion of various theoretical concepts add to the our bewilderment. Fans have been theorizing about the movie for years, and it will likely continue for quite some time.
Enemy presents a puzzle through its story of a man who discovers his lookalike. The film is filled with symbolism and themes of identity and duality, making the plot feel incredibly cryptic, convoluted, and hard to unravel. The use of surreal imagery, like the recurring spiders (especially that final shot), adds to the film’s ethereal, practically impenetrable atmosphere. The lack of clear explanations and the open-ended conclusion contribute to the overall confusion, leaving viewers to interpret the film’s meaning on their own.
Eyes Wide Shut is a film that leaves audiences puzzled due to its exploration of sexual desires and societal masks. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, the movie follows Bill Harford, who embarks on a night-long, surreal journey into the world of sexual rituals after his wife confesses sexual fantasies. The narrative is filled with ambiguous scenes and cryptic messages that make it challenging to discern what is real and what is purely metaphor—and knowing Kubrick, the answer to that question is never easy. The director’s use of long, uninterrupted shots and a haunting score further contributes to the film’s unsettling atmosphere. This complexity makes it a subject of extensive analysis and interpretation.
People often find Fight Club confusing due to its unexpected narrative twists and weaving tale. The film revolves around an unnamed narrator who, suffering from insomnia, forms an underground fight club as a form of male bonding and escape from his mundane life. As the plot unfolds, the movie dives into themes of consumerism, masculinity, and anarchy, leading to a shocking revelation about the narrator’s state of mind. The nonlinear storytelling, combined with the psychological depth of the characters, creates a layered plot that requires viewers to question the reliability of the narrator’s perspective and the nature of reality within the film.
Get Out may be perplexing to some viewers due to its blend of horror and social commentary. The film navigates the tale of Chris, a Black man who uncovers disturbing secrets while visiting his white girlfriend’s family estate. Director Jordan Peele intertwines elements of racism and cultural appropriation with sci-fi happenings, creating a nuanced narrative that provokes thought and analysis. Some viewers might find the allegorical aspects and symbolisms challenging to unpack, as the movie uses its horror framework to delve into deeper conversations about racial dynamics, making the viewing experience both unsettling and thought-provoking.
Hereditary confuses audiences with its roller coaster of a plot and heavy reliance on symbolism and foreshadowing. The film tells the story of a family haunted after the death of their secretive grandmother. It mixes psychological horror with supernatural elements, which makes it challenging for viewers to discern between the characters’ mental health struggles and actual paranormal occurrences. The film doesn’t give you all the details—and many of them are easy to miss in the first place—adding to the viewer’s confusion. Additionally, Hereditary doesn’t follow the typical horror movie formula, incorporating family drama and grief, making it a multi-layered film that leaves audiences with numerous questions and interpretations.
Inception is renowned for its sophisticated storytelling, which revolves around the concept of dreams within dreams. Directed by Christopher Nolan, the film explores the mind-bending adventures of Dom Cobb, who can steal secrets by entering others’ dreams. The movie’s multi-layered dream sequences, each with its own set of rules and flow of time, create a labyrinth that challenges viewers to keep track of the unfolding events and realities. The ambiguous ending further adds to the confusion, leaving audiences in a state of wonder and curiosity about the true nature of Cobb’s reality. The film a subject of extensive discussion and analysis for both fans and critics.
David Lynch’s Inland Empire is a labyrinth of surreal imagery and nonlinear structure that leaves audiences bewildered. The film involves an actress, played by Laura Dern, who begins to adopt an alternate persona after taking a role in a cursed film project. Lynch’s use of digital video, abrupt scene changes, and a three-hour runtime contribute to the film’s chaotic and disorienting feel. The narrative is fragmented, weaving between various layers of fiction and non-fiction—so much so that it’s often difficult for viewers to distinguish between the actual plot and symbolic imagery. This obfuscation of clarity is a hallmark of Lynch’s style, but Inland Empire is on another level: it may be the most challenging film you ever encounter.
Looper combines time travel and moral dilemmas in a sci-fi flick that can be disconcerting for viewers to take in and understand. In the film, hitmen called “loopers” are hired by a crime syndicate from the future to kill targets sent back in time. The plot thickens when Joe, a looper, is tasked with killing his older self. The concept of interacting with one’s future self, along with the rules of time travel presented in the movie, creates a complicated plot. Viewers might find it challenging to grasp the implications of the characters’ actions across different timelines, making the film intriguing but also confusing as all get up.
Mad God, created by Phil Tippett, is an elaborate stop-motion film that dives deep into a dystopian world filled with grotesque creatures and haunting environments. The movie is filled with surreal imagery, which becomes a huge challenge for those seeking a clear resolution. With its limited dialogue and emphasis on visual storytelling, the film invites viewers to interpret the unfolding chaos and piece together its underlying themes and messages. The meticulous detail in the animation and the immersive world-building contribute to its complexity, leaving audiences to navigate its cryptic landscapes and derive their own understanding of the plot and purpose.
Memento is a film that plays with time and memory, resulting in an obscure narrative that often leaves viewers puzzled. Directed by Christopher Nolan, it features a protagonist, Leonard, who suffers from short-term memory loss and uses notes and tattoos to remember facts as he seeks revenge for his wife’s murder. The screenplay’s structure is non-linear, with scenes alternating between color and black-and-white sequences, representing two different timelines. This unique structure, combined with the unreliable narration due to Leonard’s condition, creates a challenging puzzle for viewers, requiring careful attention and analysis to comprehend the unfolding mystery and interconnected details.
Midsommar bewilders viewers with its bright aesthetic contrasted by dark, disturbing themes. The film, centered around a group of friends visiting a remote Swedish village for a mid-summer festival, unfolds a nightmarish sequence of events masked in daylight and floral imagery. Director Ari Aster uses unsettling rituals and the disintegration of relationships to explore grief and cultural shock. The ambiguity of the villagers’ customs and the gradual build-up of horror elements create a psychologically tense atmosphere. The overt display of distressing events in broad daylight also adds to the confusion, which helped it to earn a reputation as an unusual and mystifying horror film.
Mother! is a divisive film that perplexes audiences with its allegory for Biblical stories and intense symbolism. Directed by Darren Aronofsky, the movie revolves around a couple living in a secluded house, where the arrival of uninvited guests disrupts their peaceful existence. The film lacks a conventional plot structure and escalates into chaotic and disturbing sequences, meaning the story is a monstrous challenge to grasp on a literal level. It’s rich in religious and environmental metaphors, requiring viewers to interpret its underlying messages. The abstract portrayal of themes like creation, destruction, and reverence makes Mother! a confounding experience open to various interpretations and analyses.
Mulholland Drive is David Lynch’s puzzling, weaving a tapestry of dream logic and obscured reality. The film involves an amnesiac woman and an aspiring actress trying to uncover details of a mysterious accident on Mulholland Drive. Lynch’s narrative is non-linear and filled with surreal sequences, causing viewers to question what is real or imagined. Character identities are fluid, and the plot intertwines various unrelated elements, leaving it challenging to discern the meaning or a clear takeaway. The open-ended nature of many scenes leaves much to interpretation, making the film a bewildering yet captivating puzzle for viewers to unravel.
No Country for Old Men presents a raw and bleak tale that leaves audiences contemplating its themes and characters. The Coen Bros. film interweaves the lives of a hunter who stumbles upon drug money, a relentless killer, and a sheriff navigating the brutal landscape. The movie’s storytelling defies traditional Hollywood expectations by leaving key actions off-screen and ending without clear resolutions. Dialogues are imbued with philosophical depth, contributing to the film’s overall ambiguity. The sparse soundtrack and abrupt conclusion add to the unsettling atmosphere, which makes for a thought-provoking, albeit confusing, movie experience.
Nocturnal Animals weaves two stories, causing the film’s plot to feel quite challenging to decipher at first glance. One part of the narrative follows Susan, who receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, and the other is the disturbing content of the manuscript itself. The transitions between the real world and the fictional tale are seamless and often symbolic, leading viewers to question the connection between the two tales and their implications. The Tom Ford film’s dark tone, coupled with its non-linear structure and metaphorical elements, leaves room for multiple interpretations, adding to its complexity and the viewer’s overall sense of bewilderment.
Satoshi Kon’s animated film Paprika delves into the realms of dreams and how dreams paint our vision of the real world, creating a vibrant yet convoluted dream-filled tale. The plot centers around a revolutionary device that allows therapists to enter patients’ dreams, leading to the blurring lines between the dream world and reality when the device is stolen. Kon’s fluid animation and surreal imagery intensify the movie’s dream-like atmosphere, making it difficult at times to distinguish between the two realms. The film’s complicated narrative, filled with symbolic and thematic richness, requires viewers to engage deeply, navigating through its psychological and philosophical explorations to grasp its full essence.
Perfect Blue, another masterpiece by Satoshi Kon, is a psychological thriller that skillfully blurs the lines between fiction and fantasy. The film follows Mima, a pop idol who transitions into an acting career, only to be haunted by an unnamed stalker and disturbing hallucinations. Kon’s use of disorienting visuals and a chronology that intertwines the protagonist’s psychological turmoil with real-world events creates a deeply unsettling atmosphere. Viewers are often left questioning what is real and what is a product of Mima’s deteriorating mind. This convoluted web makes Perfect Blue a haunting and perplexing motion picture.
Prisoners is a gripping thriller that involves the disappearance of two young girls and the ensuing search led by a determined detective and a desperate father. This Denis Villeneuve film’s intense and grim storyline is layered with burning moral questions and unexpected twists, which leave viewers oscillating between sympathy and horror. The ambiguous nature of certain characters and the morally grey areas explored in the narrative create a sense of confusion and provoke thoughtful reflection on justice and ethics. Prisoners challenges viewers to question their own boundaries and moral compass, adding to its impactful yet puzzling presentation.
Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island is a psychological thriller that masterfully crafts a history shrouded in mystery and doubt. The story, centered around U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels investigating the disappearance of a prisoner from a mental institution, is laden with twists, illusions, and unsettling atmospheres that blur the lines between reality and delusion. Scorsese’s portrayal of the island as an eerie and labyrinthine space enhances the film’s knotty aura. The unexpected conclusion leaves viewers reevaluating the entire plot, questioning the reliability of what they’ve witnessed. In the end, Shutter Island is a compelling yet confusing journey.
Signs is a film that marries the concept of extraterrestrial life with faith and symbolism, creating a tapestry of meanings that might leave some viewers puzzled. At its core, the film narrates an alien invasion tale, but it’s deeply intertwined with the personal journey of a former priest, Graham Hess, who grapples with faith after a family tragedy. The emotionally heavy weaving of personal loss and larger-than-life alien encounters creates a multifaceted narrative. The subtle signs, symbolisms, and the climax that revisits faith add layers of interpretation, making M. Night Shyamalan’s film an intriguing, thought-provoking, yet perplexing experience.
Source Code, directed by Duncan Jones, revolves around a unique concept that combines elements of science fiction with a thrilling mystery. The protagonist, a soldier, is repeatedly sent into a computed reality to identify the bomber of a commuter train. The film’s structure, which involves reliving the same eight minutes, contributes to its convoluted nature. The exploration of alternate realities, coupled with the urgency of a ticking clock, creates an intense pace that can be intimidating to keep up with. Viewers might find the concept of the “source code” technology and its rules confusing, adding to the film’s captivating allure and engaging puzzle.
Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is an ambitious film that navigates the intracacies of time inversion, creating a challenging viewing experience. The plot centers around a protagonist’s mission to prevent an apocalyptic world war, armed with the mysterious ability to manipulate time. Nolan’s innovative storytelling, featuring events unfolding both forwards and backwards, requires meticulous attention to detail from viewers. The film’s intricate exploration of temporal mechanics, coupled with high-octane action sequences, creates a multifaceted narrative puzzle. Audiences might find the rules of time inversion and their implications baffling, making Tenet a film that demands multiple viewings to fully comprehend its depth and brilliance.
The End of Evangelion serves as a conclusive part to the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, presenting a tale that’s as visually stunning as it is thorny. The film plunges into the psychological struggles of the main characters amidst an apocalyptic scenario, blending reality, dreams, and different forms of consciousness. Its heavy use of symbolism, cryptic dialogues, and abstract imagery challenges viewers to decipher the deeper meanings and connections to the overall series. The complexities in its presentation of human vulnerability and existential questions make the film a beautiful but bewildering culmination of the Evangelion saga.
David Fincher’s The Game presents a labyrinthine plot filled with twists and uncertainties that keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Centered around a wealthy banker, Nicholas Van Orton, who receives a curious birthday gift to participate in a game that consumes his life, the film deftly blends reality with elaborate staging. The constant shift between what appears to be real and what seems to be part of the game creates an atmosphere of suspicion and confusion. The unexpected turns and the ambiguity of events up to the very end make The Game a captivating yet mystifying film.
The Lighthouse is a cryptic film shrouded in maritime mythology and psychological horror. Set in a remote lighthouse, the movie centers around two lighthouse keepers who descend into madness due to isolation and tormenting conditions. The Robert Eggers film’s stark black-and-white cinematography and oppressive atmosphere contribute to its unsettling nature. Eggers employs symbolic elements, ambiguous events, and an unreliable narrative perspective that leaves viewers questioning if the depicted events actually happened. The film’s open-endedness, combined with its powerful imagery and cryptic storytelling, makes The Lighthouse a bewildering masterpiece that invites various interpretations.
The Lobster stands as a unique commentary on societal norms and relationships, set in a dystopian world where single people are turned into animals if they fail to find a partner within 45 days. Its unconventional narrative, complemented by dark humor and an emotionless presentation of bizarre rules and occurrences, adds layers of both sophistication and absurdity. Viewers may find Yorgos Lanthimos’ film challenging to navigate through its symbolic content, bleak tone, and the peculiar rules governing the film’s universe. The Lobster utilizes its unusual premise to explore deep and often unsettling questions about love and conformity.
The Shining is a masterpiece of psychological horror that has left audiences both fascinated and bewildered since its release. Based on Stephen King’s novel, this Stanley Kubrick film follows the Torrance family during their stay at an isolated hotel with a haunted past. Kubrick’s deliberate pacing, eerie cinematography, and unsettling score create a tense and disturbing atmosphere. He deploys ambiguity and surreal elements, leaving many aspects of the film open to interpretation. Viewers are often left questioning the line between reality and the supernatural, and the inexplicable occurrences within the hotel make the film an intimidating labyrinth of a film.
Under the Skin is a haunting and elusive film that delves into the human condition through the eyes of an alien entity. The alien, portrayed by Scarlett Johansson, assumes the form of a human woman, seducing and consuming men in a mysterious process. Jonathan Glazer’s film’s sparse dialogue, ethereal soundtrack, and striking visuals craft an otherworldly atmosphere. Its narrative is intentionally ambiguous, focusing more on visual storytelling and mood than explicit plot details. The movie’s exploration of identity, humanity, and objectification is presented in a way that invites viewers to interpret its deeper meanings, adding to its mystique and perplexing nature.
Jordan Peele’s Us is a horror film laden with social commentary and symbolic elements, making it a rich yet puzzling viewing experience. The plot revolves around a family vacation that turns horrifying due to the appearance of the family’s doppelgängers. Peele’s use of mirroring and symbolism creates layers of meaning, touching on themes of identity, privilege, and societal division. The film’s ambiguity, intricate plot details, and open-ended conclusion encourage multiple interpretations. Us requires viewers to actively engage with its symbolic language and underlying messages. This movie is a complex and thought-provoking film that leaves a lasting impact.
Vanilla Sky is a mind-bending film from Cameron Crowe that melds real life with lucid dreaming, creating a tapestry of existential questions. The film revolves around David Aames, a wealthy publisher navigating through a series of tragic and surreal events following a car accident. Crowe’s narrative is labyrinthine, intertwining dreams and technological fantasy, which leaves viewers in a constant state of questioning and reinterpretation. The ambiguity of the film’s sequences, combined with its philosophical undertones, makes it a riveting yet puzzling experience, inviting viewers to delve deep into the intricacies of the plot and its existential contemplations.
Your Name is Makoto Shinkai’s beautifully animated film that intertwines themes of love, destiny, and time. The fantastical tale unfolds through a baffling body-swapping phenomenon between a boy from Tokyo and a girl from a rural town. Their attempt to navigate each other’s lives and environments is filled with humor and tenderness, but also confusion due to the temporal differences in their swaps. The film’s blend of traditional Shinto beliefs with a contemporary setting, coupled with its innovative storytelling, create a charming yet wild experience. The elaborate plot twists and emotional depth make Your Name a memorable but challenging cinematic journey.